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As we come forward with proposals, in each case the Government will look to consult widely. All proposed reforms will be underpinned by cross-party discussions. Our proposals will also be informed by leading external figures, including academics and others who command public respect and have a recognised interest or expertise in the different elements of democratic reform. I expect this to conclude in time to shape the Governments forward legislative programme and to feed into the Queens Speech.
In the midst of all the rancour and recrimination, let us seize the moment to lift our politics to a higher standard. In the midst of doubt, let us revive confidence.
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Lord Strathclyde: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness for repeating this Statement. It seems that we will be busy in the final year of this Government. The Statement spoke of renewal, but last week the Labour Party had the opportunity to show the British people that it heard their crushing verdict on the performance and style of this Government, and their call for change. Sadly, the Government failed the test. Today, we get the same old verbiage from the same old bunker.
Much of the Statement concerned the other place. We all want to see that great House revived, and my right honourable friend David Cameron has set out a major programme of reform that must include more power for Back-Benchers. If anyone thinks that the power of the Whips in the other place is lessened, they should contemplate the events of last weekend.
We need a smaller House of Commons, and if we want an electoral system that is fairer, should we not ensure that each constituency has equal worth? Some constituencies have twice as many voters as others. Should we not ask the Boundary Commission immediately to begin work to redraw boundaries to make them the same size?
We are at war, and in the throes of an unprecedented recession, hearing daily news of lost jobs and homes. The first thing this Prime Minister comes forward with is a plan to clog up Parliament with constitutional Bills. I wonder whether the loyal party workers who saw the Labour Party beaten into second place in Wales and sixth place in Cornwall are throwing their caps in the air for that. The reaction of the Prime Minister to this defeat simply reinforces the truth that it is not a relaunch within Number 10 that we need, but a removal van at its gates. The greatest renewal this Parliament could have would be a general election, and until we in the political class trust the people, the people will never trust us.
My right honourable friend Mr Cameron has accepted the need in the House of Commons for the new supervisory body that the Prime Minister proposes, but are there not still serious questions to answer? How will this body relate to the two Houses if that is what happens? How will it recognise the differences between a House that is paid and representative and one that is not? To whom will this body ultimately be accountable? The Statement says that the regulator will,
What if a Peer or an MP objects? Will he be able to challenge the regulator in the courts? Surely, there is one thing on which we can all agree: we do not want the judiciary determining questions that are matters for Parliament.
Does the Prime Minister know anything about your Lordships' House? Is he aware of the swift and exemplary action recently taken to suspend two Labour Peers following a thorough investigation by a committee of your Lordships' House, a decision by the Committee for Privileges and a unanimous vote of this House? Can the noble Baroness tell the House precisely what in those procedures her right honourable friend considers is not good enough? Can she say, for example, what would have happened if the sentence recommended had been proposed not by your Lordships' Committee for Privileges, but by the new super-regulator? Could that have led to months of debate in the courts? If she cannot say where your Lordships disciplinary procedures are not good enough, perhaps she will take back to the Prime Minister the profound distaste that we have for such sweeping, disparaging comments on your Lordships' House?
The Statement referred to the Prime Minister's concern that Peers and MPs could be sentenced to up to a year in prison and not be excluded from your Lordships' House. There is a respected Member of your Lordships' House who was sentenced for offences that are not even crimes today. Is the Prime Minister aware of that? Can the noble Baroness give a firm assurance that no proposal for retrospective action will be laid before either House?
This set of proposals is emerging from something called the National Council for Democratic Renewal. Can the noble Baroness confirm that it is in fact just another set of Cabinet Ministers? How can democratic renewal come out of a private cabal in a dying Government clinging to office? Why were these plans not put out to cross-party discussion?
Since we have not been asked to the party, can I suggest a piece of renewal that needs no permission from the Prime Minister? We now have two Secretaries of State in this House, one of them now widely regarded as the real Prime Minister. What about a fortnightly Question Time to enable each of them to be held publicly to account in this Chamber as their counterparts are in another place?
My right honourable friend Mr Cameron has made clear our opposition to proportional representation. We have held that view whatever our electoral fortunes through some of the darkest days of our party. Forgive me if I am a little cynical when I see a Prime Minister who has just won 15 per cent of the popular vote rushing forward with a carrot to a party that has just won 13 per cent of it. It is worthy of note that the Conservative Party at last week's elections won as many votes as the Labour and Liberal parties combined. If the noble Baroness thinks that chumming up to the noble Lord, Lord McNally, will stop the electorate ditching this Government, then she is riding for a fall. Just when the contemptible BNP has won success in a national election for the first time via PR, that is the last time I would be peddling this solution to the countrys needs. We have had far too much messing
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Finally, I must turn to the questiontossed into this reheated constitutional custardof House of Lords reform. I have never made any secret of the fact that I support full reform. But change to a House of Parliament cannot just be thrown into a Statement as an afterthought by a Prime Minister in trouble. We have been here before.
When Mr Blair was in trouble he suddenly blurted out that he was abolishing the office of Lord Chancellor. Look where that got us: years of confusion and division; tens of millions wasted on an unwanted Supreme Court building; and the loss of the Law Lords which will be so keenly felt by this House in months to come. What are we going to get now another Prime Minister in trouble has blurted out that the remedy to problems in the House of Commons is to kick the House of Lords again?
Up until now, at the Dispatch Box, the noble Baroness and the noble Lord, Lord Hunt of Kings Heath, have given a firm commitment that the Government were opposed to piecemeal reform and that change to this House could only come in the context of a major Government reform Bill. Does that commitment still stand? Or does the commitmentthat change in composition would come only with stage 2 reform stand repudiated this afternoon by this Government?
The integrity of that commitment has been the basis of the successful operation of this House for a decade. The noble Baroness should be under no illusion about the seriousness with which its abandonment would be viewed by many in this House.
The Prime Minister talks of publishing proposals for the final stages of Lords reform before the summer break. Is he aware that your Lordships House has not had a chance to debate the White Paper published by the Government last year, nor even to have a say in it. Is that not an outrageous way to treat this House? Will the noble Baroness set out in her replyshe must have discussed this with her colleaguesa precise timetable for the proposals on Lords reform announced by the Prime Minister. When will we debate the White Paper? What will reform consist of? Will it be the 80:20 House referred to? When will the plans be presentedand in what form? If reform of this House is intended, this is the worst way and the worst time to go about it. Your Lordships who work so hard for this country and this Parliament surely deserve far better than this Prime Ministerial face-saving Statement.
Lord McNally:My Lords, it is always a pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, as he deftly has to square official conservative policy with the opinions that he knows are held behind him. He so often reminds me of the man on his deathbed who was asked to renounce the devil and all his works and who said, This is no time to be making new enemies. His response will have made no new enemies behind him,
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The time is now for action, not for words. We on these Benches welcome, as did my colleague in the other place, Nick Clegg, the setting up of the parliamentary standards authority. And we will co-operate fully in any machinery to ensure that this House is fully involved in defining its powers and responsibilities. I associate myself with what the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, said about the fact that it is important that the responsibilities of this House are fully consulted with this House and are not simply an afterthought from the other place.
Is the Leader of the House aware that we on these Benches agree that this House must move with urgency on matters of composition, finance and discipline? In the spirit of action not words, will the Government adopt the proposals made by my noble friend Lord Oakeshott on tax exiles sitting in this House and by my right honourable and noble friend Lord Steel on immediate reform of this House? The Governments constitutional renewal Bill will be the Constitutional Renewal (No. 2) Bill. The original Bill is that already put before this House by my noble friend Lord Tyler, so I invite the Leader of the House to plunder that Bill for good ideas for the government Bill when we get it.
If they want more ideas on freedom of information, I suggest that the Government look at the White Paper produced by the noble Lord, Lord Clark of Windermere, which was so radical and far-sighted that it cost him his job in the Cabinet. If they want to reform party funding, let them implement the Hayden Phillips recommendations. If they want to fulfil their pledge on a Civil Service Bill, not mentioned by the Prime Minister, let them consult the noble Lord, Lord Sheldon, or the draft Bill produced by the Public Administration Committee in another place. If they want to look at electoral reform, let them look at the Jenkins report. All the building blocks are there ready to be assembled.
What is not there is all the time that the Prime Minister seems to think he has. He talked about putting these proposals in the next Queen's Speech, which means November. Is the Leader of the House aware that the Parliament Act 1911 was introduced into the Commons on 21 February of that year and cleared the Lords on 10 August, 173 days later? I often wonder what it was about 10 August that made their Lordships give up, but give up they did. This Parliament still has over 300 days left to fulfil commitments that were not only in the Government's previous manifesto, but were actually in their 1997 manifesto, including of course the commitment to reform this House. The lesson of history is that constitutional reform is advanced not by everlasting searches for cosy consensus, but by radical Governments willing to show vision and leadership.
The Government have 300 days to rescue their reputation for reform. If they go in the right direction, they will have our support from these Benches every step of the way. As a stock token of that commitment, I invite the Leader of the House to come to the Liberal
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Baroness D'Souza: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for repeating the Statement on constitutional renewal. There have been endless debates, a Green Paper, a White Paper and a cross-party taskforce specifically set up to try to achieve consensus on several aspects of Lords reform, including the composition of this House. The Statement is extremely welcome if it heralds reforms that will add to the efficient working of your Lordships' House.
It is particularly welcome that the Prime Minister, following the initiative that the House of Lords has already taken, has written to the SSRB requesting that it undertakes an independent review of financial support of Members. However, there are one or two small discrepancies between the letter sent by the Lord Speaker and the Prime Minister's Statement. The Lord Speaker's letter to the Prime Minister about the forthcoming SSRB review certainly refers to value for money. However, the Prime Ministers Statement refers on page 3 to ensuring that Parliament costs less and on page 4 to the House of Lords costing less. Is this not a way of prejudging the outcome of the SSRB review? I would be interested to know if the Statement indicates that such smaller interim reforms, on which there is a wide degree of consensussuch as the freedom of Peers to take retirement, paving the way to a much smaller House; statutory status for the Appointments Commission; and the possible ending of hereditary Peers by-electionswill be covered in the forthcoming Bill, which is due to be announced before the Summer Recess.
Finally, the Statement refers to the backing from other parties in both Houses, as well as from the Cross Benches, for the proposals put forward in the White Paper of last July, particularly on the 80:20 aspect. There are many Back-Benchers and Cross-Benchers in this House and the other House who did not back the proposals for an elected House of Lords. Does the Statement therefore indicate that such major reforms might be set aside for later consideration?
Baroness Royall of Blaisdon: My Lords, I am grateful for all the comments made; I think that is the best way of putting it. This is certainly an interesting debate on the Statement. First, I will deal with the election issue, raised by the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, because I am sure that we will deal with this on many occasions. I know how strongly the noble Lord and many of his colleagues feel about the need for an election. However, I, my colleagues and the Government believe that our duty to the public now is to get out there, safeguard those jobs and ensure that people can get through this recession. That is what we are doing and what we will continue to do.
The noble Lord asked about the size of the House of Commons and put forward the proposals that have been put forward by his right honourable friend the leader of the Opposition. It is quite right that we keep
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The noble Lord said that my right honourable friend the Prime Minister is clogging up Parliament with Bills. In the Statement that I have just repeated, there was reference to only one Bill, and that is a Bill on which I think we are all agreed. It is the Bill that will introduce the parliamentary regulatory body for the House of Commons. I took heed of the view expressed in the House two or three weeks ago that there should be proper consultation with this House before the body takes responsibility for this House. That is precisely what is happening. I promise that I will keep all Members of this House involved in discussions pertaining to the remit of that body over the House, but that is for a later stage.
There are, of course, still questions to be answered about the body and its relationship to the House of Commons. The noble Lord asked about privilege, and so on. These are issues that must be dealt with at the other end, but we will engage fully in discussions on those issues. The noble Lord also asked if my right honourable friend the Prime Minister was properly aware of the robust action that we have taken in this House in respect of Peers who have failed in their duty of honour to the House. He is aware of that; I heard what he said in response to questions on the Statement today. Of course, there is still much more to be done. It was acknowledged by the Privileges Committee of this House when we discussed these issues that expulsion of noble Lords, for example, was not something that we could do in this House alone. It would require legislation. That is the sort of thing that my right honourable friend is thinking about.
In response to the various comments made about reform of the House of Lords, we have not yet discussed the White Paper, but we have had many debates on the Bill put forward by the noble Lord, Lord Steel. The views of the House are clear. The Statement mentions proposals. We are talking here about fulfilling a commitment that has been made by my noble friend Lord Hunt on many occasions. That is, we should bring forward draft clauses and proposals for discussion. That is exactly what we are doing. I would have thought that many Members of this House would have been pleased that we are fulfilling this commitment.
Electoral reform is not a carrot. I am dismayed, as are all those on the Benches behind me, the whole of the Government and my party. I am ashamed of the election turnout last week, and the sort of vote that we got. However, electoral reform is right and proper. As the noble Lord, Lord Strathclyde, pointed out, it is now 11 years since his noble friend the late Lord Jenkins of Hillhead put forward his review. It is time to discuss these issues and we should not be frightened of doing so.
The noble Lord, Lord McNally, referred to the Power report. Yes, it will be taken into consideration. He talked about the Oakeshott proposals. As the
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I currently think that the constitutional renewal Billif I may call it that; the number two Bill which will deal with the main body of constitutional reform issueswill include many elements pertaining to the Bill of the noble Lord, Lord Steel. It is recognised that House of Lords reform, even if proposals come forward quite soon, will take quite a long time to enact. We will therefore still see some of those things in the constitutional renewal Bill, along with elements to deal with the Civil Service and so on.
The Government have been radical in addressing constitutional reform over the past 12 years. There is still a long way to go. We want to engage with the people in this House and the people of this country in taking that agenda forward.
The Lord Bishop of Durham: My Lords, I thank the noble Baroness the Leader of the House for her Statement, repeated from the other place. Many of us on these Benches and around the country are aware of the problem of all that is going on being seen as simply a party issue. Many people out there are aware of what has been happening, but do not see it in terms of the either/or of ordinary party politics. These are questions of much wider interest. Will the noble Baroness accept that the public are bound to see this sudden rush of proposals as sheer displacement activity to distract attention from recent events which have happened on all sides of the political spectrum?
Many of us believe that we urgently need reform. However, suddenly to rush through a programme in this way cannot be the right way to do it. It is like somebody who, under the guise of so-called visionary leadership, decides to cut down all the old oak trees in the great park, only then to discover a few months later that the topsoil has all blown away. There is currently a real danger of us losing some of the political topsoil, and I hope that that will be taken into account.
Will the noble Baroness agree, while we of course need regulation and discipline to replace the indiscipline that has gone on in so many areas of public life, that regulation by itself is not enough? We have been drowning in regulation these many years, with the forms that we all fill in and all kinds of things that have come out of our overgenerous Home Office for many years past. We urgently need, not regulation, but character. The Government have talked about character. I look forward to seeing the development of character, values and virtues in a way which regulation by itself simply will not do.
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